By Jon Lees
USA: Controversial trainer Eric Guillot has been barred from having runners at any New York track after being accused of racism over the naming of a horse called Grape Soda.
The three-year-old son of Uncle Mo made a winning debut on Friday at Aqueduct where he won a maiden claimer by 6¾ lengths. However, the gelding’s victory triggered immediate condemnation on social media where TVG’s African-American racing analyst Ken Rudulph condemned Guillot as “racist”.
In the US, the term ‘grape soda’ carries pejorative connotations as it can be used as a racist slur directed at Black people.
Rudulph wrote: “The winner in race #1 from Aqueduct is the perfect example of my issue with horse racing. The winning trainer is a disgusting and racist man. But, if you want to make money in this game you have to be able to ignore that stuff. I can’t do it. But y’all carry on with your $11.”
That came after Guillot, in advance of the colt’s appearance, had posted tweets about Grape Soda, claiming he had been named “in honor of a TVG analyst” alongside a black fist emoji. This was interpreted as a reference to Rudulph. In a later tweet, Guillot claimed it had been his favourite drink as a child.
The Jockey Club ordered an immediate name change for the horse, who was claimed for $25,000 by trainer Rob Atras. New owner Larry Roman said the horse would be renamed Respect For All and 10 per cent of all earnings would go to backstretch workers.
New York Racing Association president and CEO Dave O’Rourke issued a statement condemning Guillot’s behaviour.
“Racism is completely unacceptable in all forms,” said the statement. “NYRA rejects Eric Guillot’s toxic words and divisive behavior in the strongest terms.
“At this time, he will no longer be permitted to enter horses at any NYRA track nor will he be allocated stalls on NYRA grounds. In addition, we will review what further steps may be available to us. Our racing community is diverse, and we stand for inclusion.”
The Stonach Group’s 1/ST Racing also said Guillot would no longer be welcome at any of its tracks, which include Gulfstream Park and Santa Anita.
TVG applauded the action, describing Guillot’s behaviour as “a deliberate attempt to slur one of our employees”.
Louisiana native Guillot, who has trained more than 250 winners including the G1 winner Moreno, has denied being racist. He said Grape Soda was his final runner of a 30 year career and he has now retired.